Not April Fools – Pluto is a Planet in Arizona

1st Apr 2024
Not April Fools – Pluto is a Planet in Arizona

On 29th March, the governor of the U.S. state of Arizona signed into law naming Pluto the official state planet. Pluto’s status as a planet was not a factor in the declaration. The planet – minor planet debate seems to have bubbled to the surface after Governor Katie Hobbs signed the legislation into law.

The case for making Pluto the state’s ‘astronomical object’ is easy enough to make. Pluto was discovered at the Lowell Observatory outside of Flagstaff, Arizona, in 1930 after almost a year of searching by the young Clyde Tombaugh. Lowell Observatory goes back to 1894 and is home to many astronomical discoveries. Flagstaff is also home to the nearby United States Naval Observatory Flagstaff Station (NOFS), and some of the directors of the NOFS have become directors of Lowell Observatory after leaving the Navy. NOFS is also where Pluto’s moon Charon was first identified.

As to whether Pluto should have been called a planet or minor-planet in the legislation, the governor and lawmakers quoted by local press express a wide range of reactions. Governor Hobbs avoided the question with an emphasis on her pride in “Arizona’s pioneering work in space discovery”. Of those who passed, some saw the historical value of commemorating Tombaugh’s discovery no matter what the current status of Pluto is.

Five of Arizona’s 60 state representatives did vote against the bill for reasons ranging from the bill not reflecting the current definition of a planet, while others stated that the chamber had more important things to do. Arizona online news platform quotes a third naysayer: “I did not want to discriminate against those who wanted Mars, Venus, Jupiter, or everyone’s favorite, Uranus,’’ quipped Sen. Anthony Kern, R-Glendale.

Sweeping change brought Pluto down’s reporter does point out that one of the main reasons that Pluto was demoted to minor-planet was that the heavenly body does not clear its orbit of other bodies in its path. This fact, might have led Tombaugh to accept the decision to change Pluto’s status. However, the discovery of other Kuiper Belt objects, some larger than Pluto, would have been convincing to him, his widow said in 2006. The Associated Press contacted her, and was told, “He was a scientist. He would understand they had a real problem when they start finding several of these things flying around the place,” Patricia Tombaugh said.

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